SEATTLE — A Washington state initiative to remove homeless encampments from state property has begun with the first homeless encampment to be removed under this program being cleared in Seattle on Tuesday at Melrose Avenue and Olive Way in Capitol Hill.
The camp that was removed included several tents that had been erected next to the on-ramp leading to Interstate 5.
In a statement to KOMO news, the Washington Department of Transportation said: “WSDOT coordinated this cleanup effort and worked closely with the King County Regional Homeless Authority, Washington State Department of Commerce, Washington State Patrol and the City of Seattle,” adding, “the Olive Way encampment cleanup is part of the right of way safety initiative the Governor announced in May. "
According to state officials, the Olive Way encampment was the first cleanup that was part of the initiative that is being carried out under a $50 million funding allocation that allows Commerce, WSDOT and WSP to transition people who are living on our rights-of-way into safer shelter and housing options.
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority and the group JustCare also helped provided outreach services for individuals at the encampment.
“JustCARE was the lead on outreach at this site, with support from the RHA and from the state, because this is state-owned property and a priority of the governor," the authority said in a statement. "My understanding is that WSDOT viewed this site as a safety concern for both motorists and people living unsheltered."
“We did outreach and screening with the five individuals who had been living at the site starting June 10. We were able to match everyone who lived there with rooms in non-congregate lodging; four of the five individuals have been placed, and the fifth is eligible and is expected to accept that offer (they were not on site when we finished work on Tuesday, but we are aware of their general location and we will be working to complete the placement). The resources to support the ongoing lodging and care for these individuals are expected to come from the Governor's Rights of Way initiative, although no formal agreement has yet been executed to provide those funds,” a spokesperson with JustCARE said.
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke about the initiative and stated that work could start by mid-June.
"We are dedicated to reducing the number of folks living in dangerous conditions on our state's right of ways. I believe this is both a moral obligation to get people out of these unsafe conditions and into the kind of rapid supportive housing that is both good for them, but will remove this blight along the right of ways in the state of Washington," Inslee said.
A lot of potential money is involved in this initiative that does not just include funding for encampment clean-ups.
The state Department of Commerce provided a list of counties to KOMO News and the amount of money each could receive of a $144 million fund:
But commerce officials said the counties will have to apply for the funds, and King County has started that process.
When it comes to Seattle and King County, there are still many encampments on the state’s list to tackle, including:
“WSDOT will continue to work with the City of Seattle to address encampments around shared areas, including the two encampments you mention," the agency said. "We do not have dates for when these encampments will be cleaned up and the biggest consideration is having sufficient housing and services available at the same time. We are not publicly announcing encampment cleanups in advance because they are not public events. We do provide 72-hour notification to residents.”
Seattle city officials also responded to questions about those encampments saying: “We’re working collaboratively with WSDOT to respond to the encampments in these areas. In general, WSDOT usually owns the land immediately underneath and around freeways and state highways, and often has agreements with cities that result in our taking responsibility for some parts of the maintenance of these areas.”